How do you get youngsters interested in engineering? One way is by showing them that engineering in involved in the things they use every day. Promoting that interest is the goal of IEEE Spark, a new quarterly online publication aimed at readers ages 14 through 18. It hopes to inspire an interest in engineering by introducing the teens to technical topics.
“We want to raise awareness and excitement among students about technology and its career possibilities,” says Elizabeth Kurzawa, educational outreach program manager for IEEE Educational Activities, in Piscataway, N.J., which is responsible for the publication. “IEEE Spark will show them the amazing things they can do with degrees in technology.”
FIRST FOR THE AGES
IEEE Spark is the first IEEE publication written for teens. “We already have educational products to support student advisors, parents, teachers, and others in the education system, but we’ve never engaged the individual student,” says IEEE Senior Member Liz Burd, chair of the 2012 Educational Activities Board Preuniversity Education Coordinating Committee. “IEEE Spark takes IEEE into a whole new arena of engaging individuals who could become our profession’s future leaders.”
Online in January, the first issue covered forensics, taking its cue from the popular TV program, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” The lead article considered how technologies developed by engineers are used by crime-scene investigators. Another article profiled IEEE Member Sargur Srihari and the crime-solving handwriting analysis software he created. A third feature gave readers some simple ideas for trying biometrics, used at secure installations to identify individuals, at home.
The current issue, which went online last month, covers green technology. The lead article looks at how engineers are making a cleaner, more eco-friendly world by developing sustainable buildings with new types of materials and with energy monitors and efficient lighting systems. In another article, IEEE Member Kimberly Newman, research associate in the department of electrical, computer, and energy engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder, discusses the challenges she has faced in her career, including integrating solar photovoltaic panels into ambulances. Readers also can learn how to recycle paper at home and play an online game in which they build their own solar-powered racing car.
Each issue is enhanced with comic strips, polls, tips on getting involved in different technologies, and more.
“We are trying to communicate the technical challenges of engineering in an engaging way,” Burd says. “And we’re challenging our readers to think in a more adventurous way. We want them to realize that they can be one of the people who invents new technologies, not just one of the people who uses them.”
SETTING THE TONE
Finding the right “voice” for IEEE Spark was a challenge, Burd says, but the experience was of great value to the volunteers involved.
“It’s been hugely helpful for people to learn how to speak to those who are not their technical peers,” she says. “It’s important to talk to the public, and to communicate with a broader audience. It turns the discipline from being a ‘techie’ career experience for nerds into something cool and exciting. That’s what we’re trying to convey with this publication.”
The new magazine is also a useful element in preuniversity outreach programs. “It’s a great new tool for schools, career fairs, and other events,” says Kurzawa. “And members can also share it with their children or grandchildren.”
Another of the magazine’s goals is to familiarize teens with IEEE and see the value of membership. “We’re giving students a sneak peak at the resources that IEEE offers, as well as the contributions made by our members and student members,” Kurzawa says. “We want them to understand that IEEE is an organization that can support them on their future path.”
As the magazine grows, Burd says, she hopes to add more interactive features, including a readers’ forum. “We would love to have students build some of the things they learn about in the magazine and then share their comments, enhancements, and photos,” she says. Meanwhile, she notes, readers of the magazine will be developing their communication skills and building an international community with similar interests.
Upcoming issues of IEEE Spark will be devoted to gaming, the music industry, outer space, animation, and robotics, Burd says.